Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The year that sucked

Last week, TPM's Josh Marshall picked up on what he thought to be an unusual number of people declaring that 2014 had been especially terrible; more than just the regular batch of "Fuck that year" proclamations you get at New Year's, that is.  So he asked readers to elaborate.

Your 2014 mileage may have varied, but I thought it was an especially craptastic year for a bunch of different reasons so I was interested in seeing the follow-up.  Here is that.

Put simply, a lot of readers told me that 2014 was the year they began to or finally did lose hope.

I mentioned yesterday that since my friends and professional acquaintances are disproportionately Democrats maybe the party's November drubbing played a role. That clearly had some effect. But there was something much more general.

Again and again, people shared a sense that things they thought were fixed or getting better were actually not getting better. And many readers shared a pessimism that they would not ever get better.

What things? Race relations (people of course mentioned Ferguson, the death of Eric Garner, the whole range of issues tied to policing and race). International crises. Syria, ISIS and the US return to Iraq. The Russian annexation of Ukraine also got a lot of mentions - pointing to an increasingly violent and rule-less world order where revisionist powers were redrawing borders through force, something we do not expect in Europe in the post-Cold War, post-Yugoslav break-up era.

Then there was the economy, rising inequality, stagnating wages, the disjuncture between the news generated out of ever-rising equity market numbers and more straightened circumstances at home.

With pessimism about race relations or the economy, you might expect a sense of discontent married to a push toward activism. But the tone of many emails was a sense not only of pessimism but readers who felt they had been naive in their earlier optimism.
I'd have to say that my own experience tracks pretty well with that.  The laundry list of bad news events is not necessarily different from what you might find in most years. But it's more difficult than ever to imagine any one of those events inspiring any sort of worthwhile reaction.

To the items enumerated by Marshall's readers, we could add some local events.

These would include two especially lame elections; the municipal races at the beginning of the year and the statewide race at the end.  Each was characterized by a disengaged public, a disinterested.. even bored press, and a general sense of inevitability of outcome.

In local politics, in particular, the sense of civic malaise is worse than anything I can remember at least since Katrina.  But even before then, there was some discernible sense amongst the public that arguing over public affairs mattered.  But recently more and more seems like it's decided behind closed doors or well in advance of any opportunity for public resistance. Once upon a time, choosing a school superintendent would have been a major contentious issue.  Now, you'd barely know it was happening.

Sometimes when there is catastrophe, there is also the sense that maybe it will be possible to do something about it.   But shocks do not necessarily portend change.  Recently we're learning that we can absorb more and more of them without consequence.  2014 seemed like a crap year for other reasons too (football was terrible, for instance) but this, the loss of hope that Marshall's readers point to, is probably the most general description as to why.

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